I’ll Fly Away

So, you might remember how I was telling you about my sister’s funeral, which happened during all the Covid 19 madness and even though she didn’t die of the virus (at least that’s what the assisted living place told us), we had to abide by all the restrictions, you know, no church service, no wake to speak of-just a smattering of family standing awkwardly around the open casket of my older sister, the third of four sisters who are all pretty good-looking, but she was the prettiest – always dressed to the nines, everything just right, with the special silver necklace and the matching scarves and tasteful silk blouses, she certainly knew how to present a polished and professional look (more than any of the rest of us!), so you can imagine that everyone agreed how wonderful it was that she could be made so pretty again, lying in her white satin bed, wearing all her favorite jewelry and her hair just right, dressed in her favorite color-red, looking so peaceful… but funny, I can’t remember now if she was holding rosary beads, which is the custom, but she probably was, because she adored tradition and custom and decorum and of course her husband, who perhaps leaned a bit heavy in general on how things looked, had arranged that every detail be picture-perfect and had the clout or the pull or whatever, to first of all, arrange a very nice funeral so quickly, but also to arrange an open casket on the first day, with ashes (I’ve read there is a huge back up on cremations!)  in a lovely Chinese vase on the next, making sure that everything was smooth and seamless – so much so that we felt we were part of a Fellini film when we all drove in a parade of separate cars to St. Mary’s cemetery to gather at the gravesite of my father and mother and younger brother, who died of epilepsy when he was 25 – so young, but he had had a tough go of it, ending up in a room in a lonely boarding house, a fact that broke my mother’s heart and of course we all wonder if that grief is really what killed my father less than a year later, but you know, to tell you the truth, nobody really knows about these things and God knows, every family has their dramas and their sagas, their triumphs and their failures, but back to Fellini, when we all pulled up in that caravan of cars to that beautiful cemetery, we were greeted by friends standing like Greek statues in small clusters, (I couldn’t help but think of the Caryatids that my sister loved so much, being a student and then a teacher of Latin and Greek), and as I was saying, standing like Greek statues in front of that spectacular house-sized outcropping of granite which graces that section of the cemetery – the rock, topped with a white marble statue of the Pietà, gleaming in the late May sun and there were the friends, standing solemnly, like a painting, buffeted by occasional outbursts of wind, in silent witness to a death, a frozen gathering of Caryatids.

The priest did not come, for fear of Covid, but a very nice gentleman, whom we had never met, gave a very beautiful personal tribute to my sister, which was pretty amazing, seeing as he had never met her (such a great gift, don’t you think?) and then we all sang I’ll Fly Away, that beautiful old gospel hymn that says ‘When I die, Hallelujah, by and by, I’ll fly away’ – such a marvelous message for my sister who had the good fortune to slip away in her sleep (a gift from the angels, they say) before her dementia totally destroyed her and all of us, and so the whole thing ended up being a joyous celebration of death and flying and I have to say, I was so distracted by the Caryatids, the Pietà, the wind, the Chinese vase, the eulogy, the singing, and well, the beauty of the whole thing that it was all I could think about, and I wanted desperately to capture the scene with my iPhone, but thankfully was aware enough to feel in my still-living bones how inappropriate it would be to take a picture of such fine friends come to mourn with us, but I have to say, because I was not able to take that photograph, I will never be done with trying to describe the scene.

Kate Sullivan likes to play around with words, music and pictures. She is the author/illustrator of two children’s books, On Linden Square and What Do You Hear? A linguist by training, she is also an award-winning composer and performer. Her one-woman theatre piece LENYA! won the Independent Reviewers of New England prize and her Fugitum Est was premiered by The Kremlin Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. She has given many solo performances, singing, playing the piano, guitar or, on special occasions, the musical saw.


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